Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy

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Univ. Press of Mississippi, Sep 28, 2009 - Biography & Autobiography - 280 pages
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Van Johnson's dazzling smile, shock of red hair, and suntanned freckled cheeks made him a movie-star icon. Among teenaged girls in the 1940s, he was popularized as the bobbysoxer's heartthrob.

He won the nation's heart, too, by appearing in a series of blockbuster war films--A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Weekend at the Waldorf, and Battleground. Perennially a leading man opposite June Allyson, Esther Williams, Judy Garland, and Janet Leigh, he rose to fame radiating the sunshine image Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chose for him, that of an affable, wholesome boy-next-door. Legions of adoring moviegoers were captivated by this idealized persona that generated huge box-office profits for the studio.

However, Johnson's off-screen life was not so sunny. His mother had rejected him in childhood, and he lived his adult life dealing with sexual ambivalence. A marriage was arranged with the ex-wife of his best friend, the actor Keenan Wynn. During the waning years of Hollywood's Golden Age, she and Johnson lived amid the glow of Hollywood's A-crowd. Yet their private life was charged with tension and conflict.

Although morose and reclusive by nature, Johnson maintained a happy-go-lucky facade, even among co-workers who knew him as a congenial, dedicated professional. Once free of the golden-boy stereotype, he became a respected actor assigned stellar roles in such acclaimed films as State of the Union, Command Decision, The Last Time I Saw Paris, and The Caine Mutiny.

With the demise of the big studios, Johnson returned to the stage, where he had begun his career as a song-and-dance man. After this, he appeared frequently in television shows, performed in nightclubs, and became the legendary darling of older audiences on the dinner playhouse circuit. Johnson (1916-2008) spent his post-Hollywood years living in solitude in New York City.

This solid, thoroughly researched biography traces the career and influence of a favorite star and narrates a fascinating, sometimes troubled life story.


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User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

The Van Johnson Story. Starring . . . Van Johnson.Davis (History/Southern Methodist Univ.; The Glamour Factory, 1993, etc.) writes books about "movie people," an enterprise now institutionalized in ... Read full review

Van Johnson: MGM's golden boy

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

The first in the new "Hollywood Legends" series, edited by Davis (history, Southern Methodist Univ.), this is the only full-length biography of Johnson, who rose to film box-office stardom during ... Read full review


New York
Early Hollywood
Trouble in Paradise
Resilient MGM Star
Freelance Actor
Holding Together
Later Years
Bibliographical Essay

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The Leading Men of MGM
Jane Ellen Wayne
No preview available - 2005

About the author (2009)

Ronald L. Davis is professor history at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of A History of Opera in the American West, Opera in Chicago, and A History of Music in American Life (three volumes). He has contributed numerous articles to Opera News, Opera and Opera Quarterly. In addition, he has written six books on Hollywood, including The Glamour Factory (1993).

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